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On Ryan Hollins, Sports Media, and the Art of the Hot Take

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He’s no Skip Bayless, but Ryan Hollins is gaining steam over his scorched earth takes and questionable debates. However, the jury is out on if this is a bad thing for today’s sports media landscape.

Utah Jazz v LA Clippers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Ah, good ole Ry-Ho. A Los Angeles native who played his college ball for UCLA and had the ultimate NBA journeyman career, playing for nine teams in 10 seasons, Hollins is getting a lot of airtime these days. A former Clipper player and one of their fill-in announcers for the 2018-19 season, Ryan Hollins has now become a part of the regular rotation of panelists for ESPN morning shows like Get Up! and First Take. While he mostly comments on the NBA, Hollins has been brought on to discuss more serious and diverse topics as of late, and has become a prominent voice for the network in the past few months.

His voice, however, has become of Gilbert Gottfried level of annoyance for many fans of these shows. This derision is often felt most on Twitter, where Hollins has become the subject of a number of “viral” tweets disparaging his takes and poking fun at his analysis. There are also multiple videos on YouTube with a surprising amount of views compiling his worst takes and/or demanding his exit from the network. There’s even an online petition, signed by thousands, to remove him from appearing on the network. To say that Ryan Hollins is a beacon (I mean, quite literally, as the guy is seven feet tall) of sports media contention is accurate. He is constantly being roasted by his cohorts for his apparent lack of knowledge, and the debates he finds himself in are usually one-sided to his opponent’s ends. Is he just a mouthpiece of questionable takes so the network has a figurative punching bag? Is this calculated on Hollins part to make sure he gets airtime? Is he slowly turning himself into a Skip Bayless-type character who acts as a lightning rod of wish-washy sports talk to create content? All of these could be true.

According to his Instagram bio, Hollins does indeed “create content”. He has been more and more active on the network, plays in the Big 3, and is steadily gaining buzz. While you will more than likely disagree with what he has to say on a lot of things, Hollins is doing what many people have been doing on television for decades. He starts conversations by saying outlandish things, which gives us more sports content, which in turn starts more sports conversations, which results in more fun for us, the fans.

The funny thing is, he has credibility, or at least he should. Especially when it comes to basketball, right? I mean the dude played 10 years in the league and four years for UCLA, when UCLA was still a power. He should have sources, a certain “player’s pulse” of a locker room, and the X’s and O’s knowledge to be one of the better analysts in the game right now. He’s only three years out of the league, and has been making solid strides in advancing his broadcasting career since. Funnily, the best test of his credibility came this season with the Clippers as a fill-in color commentator next to the play-by-play legend Ralph Lawler. It was a test that he maybe wasn’t ready for according to some Clipper fans.

In ways, the Clippers’ job last season was a trial by fire for Hollins. First, he was never beloved by Clipper Nation as a player. He was an end of the bench journeyman who, when he played, wasn’t necessarily that effective. Second, he wasn’t consistently doing games. While he would work halftimes and post games alongside Jeanne Zelasko, this kind of schedule had to hurt his rhythm. Third, he was thrown into working more after the main color commentator, Corey Maggette, was removed from broadcasts following a sexual assault allegation from his time at Duke University. It wasn’t the easiest situation to be in for a relative novice in Hollins, but I will say, as the season went along, he did get better, albeit only slightly.

So, while Hollins is still young in the game, and is still improving his on-air presence, the question remains…Is he an ESPN martyr, designed to stir the pot? A genuine believer of truly preposterous takes? Or maybe he’s a smarter pundit than people give him credit for, by giving the fans what they want — heightened debates, more conversations surrounding the topics presented, and longer coverage. It’s almost unanimous that purveyors of sports television and social media are sour on Ryan Hollins. Should this be the case though?

It is a fact that while most find Skip Bayless intolerable, he has a thriving career, is still a headliner on a network show, and is constantly in the news, good or bad. I am not a Skip apologist, and am firmly in the category of him being irritating, but the adage remains, any press is good press. What does Skip do on a daily basis between his show and social media? He gives sports fans content to react to, debate, and share. Hollins isn’t Skip, but he’s in the same vain. Haven’t we gotten some good laughs from the narratives presented by these two? Isn’t the entertainment value high, even if their takes may come from a network pushing for ratings? If you take it from a satirical position, Hollins is playing the game right. He has energy (not on the same level as Stephen A. Smith), some reasoning in backing up his scorched earth takes, and gets the guests on whatever show he is on riled up. He even gets some current players to chime in on social media.

What Hollins is doing on ESPN is calculated, comical in good and bad ways, and a little brilliant. When you think about it, he’s the ultimate team player in sports media in 2019. Yes, he comes up with ridiculous statements and takes. But doesn’t this help others look better in the long run? When pundits and NBA analysts debate with Hollins, he essentially is throwing them several lobs right at the rim. The same way that Skip made Stephen A. Smith look really good when discussing anything, and how Colin Cowherd essentially got Nick Wright his own T.V. show on the same network, is what Ryan Hollins gives guys like Will Cain (whose basketball knowledge was clowned by none other than Patrick Beverley) and Max Kellerman to make them look better in their knowledge of the game. It also allows ESPN to get notable guests on, like Shaq, to further debate Hollins’ wild takes, adding to the content train that Hollins contributes well to.

Look, it’s hard to advocate for Hollins’ presence on these various programs. He might be just a pawn for ESPN to keep their network first within the sports media ecosystem. However, what he provides is exactly what sports media seeks in 2019: entertaining, constant content, and keeping the conversation going while adding to the social media ecosystem that feeds news in this day and age. I don’t think we should be mad at it. Embracing the absurd is fun sometimes. What do you all think Clipper Nation?